The rise of the speedgun pensioner

The place: a 30mph road leading through a picturesque village.

The time: any time before bedtime (8:30pm).

You: in your car, mind elsewhere, your speed climbing to 33, 35, 37 mph.

The situation: suddenly, a glimpse of hi-vis jacket intrudes upon your daydream, and you’re staring down the barrel of the Speedgun of Doom. It’s too late to scrub off the extra speed. You’ve been well and truly tagged by a speedgun-wielding pensioner.

Your response: well, depending on your views, that could range from “it’s a fair cop, I should watch my speed,” to ranting about busybodies with too much time on their hands. And hence this article — what are we to make of this national phenomenon, the speedgun-toting retiree?

What is the Community Speedwatch Scheme?

According to their website:

Community Speedwatch is a national initiative where proactive members of local communities join with the support and supervision of their local police to record details of speeding vehicles using approved detection devices.

Registered keepers of vehicles exceeding the speed limit are contacted – initially with a letter explaining the potential risks and consequences of their dangerous behaviour. Repeat offenders will receive a visit from the local police, irrespective of where they live. Beyond these friendly gestures, focused enforcement and criminal prosecution follow based on the collated evidence.

The scheme is a response to a national problem: from Nottingham to Norfolk, villagers are plagued by speeding motorists, with a massively overstretched police force unable to offer much help. Putting speed guns into the hands of the public offers a potential solution and gives a community some ownership over the issue.

So, the ‘speedgun pensioner’ thing is just a stereotype?

We’re sure the good people at Community Speedwatch would point out that all sorts of people are part of the scheme, and that it’s definitely not just pensioners.

However,  retired people do tend to have more time available for community-minded projects. And in our (admittedly small) sample, every person we’ve seen pointing a speedgun – police aside – looked eligible to get free prescriptions.

But OK, we’ll admit it’s a bit of a stereotype. It’s intended as a bit of gentle fun.

Does the scheme actually catch many people speeding?

You bet your boots it does.

In fact, some of the statistics are mindboggling. A little team in the village of Staplehurst, Kent (pop. 5947; speed limit 30mph) registered 130,000 speeding drivers in a week. Seriously, in one week.  The team also clocked 150 vehicles at over 70mph.

And Staplehurst is far fom the only village to register colossal numbers of speeding vehicles.

Is the scheme a real deterrent?

The emphasis in the scheme is on education, and speeding motorists are generally sent strongly worded letters. Police may take further action against repeat offenders or those driving at clearly dangerous speeds. Is this enough to act as a deterrent?

Community Speed Watch certainly thinks so, and the organisation has assembled an exhaustive analysis to back this up.

And there’s no truth to the rumour that some village groups have asked for rocket launchers to beef up their speed control efforts.

What does the public make of all this?

To find out, we visited the news source with its finger on the nation’s pulse: CheshireLive. Helpfully, after a recent initiative in their area, they’ve also been intrigued by this question. They pulled together some responses from social media.

These show that not everyone is a fan:

“Bunch of Karens on a power trip with a speed gun and a direct line to the police.”

To get all social-psychological, this nicely demonstrates the idea of ‘legitimate authority‘. The commentor would presumably be fine with a standard authority figure enforcing the law, but someone who’s doing exactly the same thing without the proper hat is a ‘Karen on a power trip’.

As someone else points out, that could be bad news for the volunteers:

“This will undoubtedly increase the incidents of road rage confrontation with angry motorists and the people holding the speed gun. it’s not going to end well.”

It’s pretty likely that volunteers get some verbal abuse, but road rage? We don’t have any statistics or reports of incidents, but it sounds like a legitimate concern.

Not everyone is opposed to the idea. At the other end of the spectrum, we suspect this person speaks for many:

Here’s a simple solution, what with all the “that won’t work” and “they can’t do that” moaners out there. Don’t speed. It’s a strange concept but if you don’t speed it won’t matter who is measuring your speed as your vehicle details won’t be sent to the cops and as if by magic, you won’t get a ticket.

What are the alternatives?

We started with a light-hearted driver’s-eye-view of a ‘speedgun pensioner’, but here’s a serious question.

Let’s say your village is on a rat run, and you’re sick of the racket and danger of motorists speeding through the middle of it. What’s a good solution?

Option 1: have a permanent speed camera installed. Good luck persuading a cash-strapped authority that you’re more deserving than dozens of other places.

Option 2: ask the police to show up with speedguns. Again, good luck.

Option 3: break out the high-vis jackets and form a Speedwatch community.

As an effective answer to your problem, option 3 is probably one of your best bets.

It’s probably better than creating ‘scare tactic speed scarecrows‘, and you might even get brought some tea and biccies.

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